arrow grid linear view icon
The College of Arts Sciences Search

Ph.D. Program

You are here

Entering the Ph.D. Program

The official course of study in the Ph.D. graduate program begins during the second week of August, one week before the official start of the Fall Semester at Cornell. All incoming Ph.D. students take a series of graduate proficiency exams in Organic, Inorganic, and Physical Chemistry provided by the American Chemical Society (ACS). All Ph.D. students then meet with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and select professors in their area of interest for advice on course selection.

Teaching Assistant Training Program (TATP)

Since teaching is an essential component of a graduate education, all Ph.D. students work as teaching assistants (TAs) in undergraduate Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) courses during their first year of studies. Teaching assignments vary depending on area of expertise and course demands. Satisfactory performance as a TA is a requirement for advancement in the Ph.D. program at Cornell. Excellence in teaching is highly regarded and encouraged. Most students also TA in their second year, when they no longer have graduate coursework demands.

All incoming domestic Ph.D. students are strongly encouraged to participate in the three-week Teaching Assistant Training Program (TATP) hosted by the department immediately after the July 4 holiday (TATP participation is mandatory for all incoming international Ph.D. students as described below). The TATP provides incoming graduate students with a comprehensive introduction to teaching, the department, and living in Ithaca. Participants in the TATP attend lectures about undergraduate CCB courses and facilities, complete special educational projects, lead recitations, and undergo safety and instrumentation training to prepare them for their graduate studies at Cornell. This program also provides a great opportunity for graduate students to become familiar with the Ithaca area, find housing, and get to know their classmates before the first semester begins. Several social outings and activities are also planned as part of the program. All students will receive a special stipend to support their living expenses while participating in this program.

Graduate Coursework

Incoming Ph.D. students generally take three graduate courses during their first semester at Cornell. A minimum grade of B- is required in each course for the student to remain in good standing with the department and the university. An additional three courses are then taken in the spring semester, for a total of six required courses. Depending on a student’s academic background and research interests, one or more of these courses may be taken outside of the Graduate Field of Chemistry & Chemical Biology. Additional courses are often taken by Ph.D. students in the later years of their dissertation work, if they are deemed useful by the student's research advisor and/or special committee (see below). For the full list of courses offered at Cornell, please visit the Class Roster to select the appropriate department and semester.

Finding a Mentor and Laboratory to Conduct Thesis Research

During the first month of the Fall semester, all incoming Ph.D. students are expected to attend a series of research orientation lectures in which the faculty provide an overview of their current research projects. Students are expected to attend research group meetings of faculty of interest, talk to other students and postdoctoral research associates, and discuss potential research projects with at least three faculty members. Students then officially join research groups by November 1.

Special Committee

All Ph.D. students in CCB are required to choose three or more faculty members to serve as a special committee to represent their major (and minor if applicable) areas of study. The student’s faculty research advisor serves as chair of the special committee and usually has primary responsibility for directing the graduate student’s research and studies. Degree requirements are kept to a minimum and there are no specific course requirements. The number of formal courses required depends on students' academic background, chosen concentration, and the advice of the special committee.

Every Ph.D. student takes an oral examination for admission to candidacy (A-exam), typically during their second year of graduate study. The A-exam takes place after the student’s coursework has been completed and before the commencement of full-time research. The thesis, which is the final outcome of this research, must constitute an original contribution to chemical knowledge and be defended at a final examination overseen by the special committee (B-exam). The Ph.D. degree is awarded on successful defense of the thesis and students typically take five years to complete the Ph.D. program.

Financial Support

Complete financial support accompanies every offer of admission to the Ph.D. program. Each Ph.D. student is therefore guaranteed at least five years of full financial support as long as he or she makes satisfactory progress toward the Ph.D. degree. This support includes a 12-month stipend, a full tuition award, and health insurance. Financial support comes in the form of teaching assistantships, graduate research assistantships, research fellowships, and several NIH-funded training grant programs, such as the Chemistry Biology Interface (CBI) Training Program. Eligible applicants are strongly encouraged to seek federally funded fellowships, such as those available from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as well as other government or private agencies.